You have to admire Apple's guts. The company had a product that was one of the best in its class, the iPod nano, and it's just gone and replaced it with something entirely different: the, er, iPod nano.
It's a dumb decision to use the same name for the new version, because it invites all sorts of pointless comparisons between this and the old one. Let's get them out of the way now. No, this one doesn't play video. It doesn't have a camera or a clickwheel or a large screen. There are no games, contacts... you get the idea.
If you get too tied up in this sort of comparison, the sixth-generation iPod nano makes no sense at all, especially when you consider that the 8GB version, at £129, is only £60 cheaper than the infinitely more capable 8GB iPod touch. That's because, rather than trying to appeal to a broad range of users, this time, Apple is going after just one: people who want to listen to music while they exercise, but find the iPod shuffle too simple. Apple should just have called it the 'iPod run' and be done with it.
Such a square
The nano is unbelievably small and light. You can fix it to your clothes using the strong clip at the back. There are just three buttons -- power/screen lock, volume up and volume down. Everything else is controlled via the 1.5-inch, capacitive touchscreen, which is something of a mixed bag. The screen is bright and colourful, and text is clear.
It's easy to get to grips with the basics. The home screen has a block of four icons with clear labels such as podcasts, artists, radio and so on. To see more options, you swipe left or right to load more icons, just like you do on an iPhone or iPod touch. So far, so good, but after that it starts to get a little more complicated.
Scrolling through artists or songs is relatively fiddly, as only four bands, songs or whatever are shown on the screen at once. Although the nano helps by jumping quickly to a letter, if you have 50 bands starting with the letter M, it's not particularly easy to find what you're looking for.
Once you're over that, there are various gestures to learn. Swiping right takes you back one screen (eventually to the home screen), twisting with two fingers rotates the display and tapping and swiping in the radio and music menus bring up extra features such as live pause. There's no way you would be able to find out most of those without reading an online manual though, as on-screen help is limited at best. It's the first time we've had to break out the documentation when reviewing an iPod, which isn't a great sign.
Music quality is good, although as always, we'd recommend replacing the headphones. Album art looks pretty cool on the screen, although if you clip the nano somewhere easily visible to others, you might have to be careful with your music choice if you're worried about being outed as a Showaddywaddy fan.
The built-in FM radio is pretty reasonable for such a small player, if a little difficult to get to grips with initially. To tune in, you press the arrows on the screen to find the next strongest signal, or you can manually tune to a frequency by swiping a bar at the bottom of the screen. If you're not sure what you're after, the nano picks the strongest stations in your area, although it only displays the frequencies rather than station names. Once you're listening to a station, it'll display the name if the signal is good enough.
One cool feature is the ability to pause a radio station for up to 15 minutes and skip forwards and backwards through the recording. How an average user is supposed to find the menu to do that, we're not sure, but it's worth hunting down.
On the trot
There's a built-in pedometer which measures the number of steps you take and uploads the results to nikeplus.com when you next sync the nano with iTunes. It also supports the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit (iTunes link), but the sensor for that is nearly as large as the nano itself, so we're not sure it's that useful -- really Apple should have built the sensor in. Incidentally, iTunes remains, as always, a hateful, teeth-grindingly slow piece of software.
You can copy your photos to show off, although as the nano has a smaller screen than many digital cameras, we're not sure why you'd want to. Apple was very proud of the clock on the nano at the launch we attended, and can confirm that it is, indeed, a clock. You could make your own wrist-strap and wear the nano as a proper watch if you're mad, or buy a strap accessory if you're a frightening Apple fanatic.
Battery life is good at 24 hours of audio, which is nine more hours than you get from the shuffle, according to Apple's figures.
Ultimately the sixth-generation nano, or iPod run, is a great product for a very specific niche -- those who want more control over their MP3 player in the gym, or those who just want something new to flash about when exercising. For everyone else, it's too expensive for what it is. Go for either the iPod shuffle or touch.
Edited by Nick Hide